In January, the CDC reported that the number of abortions continues to decline in the United States. In fact, it is lower than it has been in decades. According to US News & World Report, "The latest annual report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, incorporating data from 47 states, said the abortion rate for 2013 was 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years. That is down 5 percent from 2012, and is half the rate of 25 recorded in 1980."
Maybe it has something to do with the growth of alternatives to abortion and the increasingly effective efforts of the pro-life movement to make those alternatives known. Pro-life media campaigns are aware of the importance of addressing the internal state of mind of the pregnant woman and they are having a profound effect. Meanwhile, pregnancy centers are making the wise move of upgrading themselves to medical facilities, thus attracting more abortion-minded women. Of course, we cannot ignore the impact of peaceful pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion facilities.
The fall in abortion numbers is not new, but it is great news. However, both within and outside of the pro-life movement, the explanations for the decline will vary, along with all their corresponding arguments. You don't get to work in the anti-abortion movement for as long as I have without hearing it all.
The most ironic correlation I've heard is one alleging that abortion decreases during Democrat administrations and rises during Republican presidencies. If it sounds counterintuitive to give credit to a party whose platform is openly pro-abortion and pro-abortion funding, that's because it is. Yet our Public Correspondence Associate at Priests for Life heard this quite a few times during election season. People were trying to ease their consciences by trying to justify voting for Hillary Clinton -- despite her aggressive pro-abortion expansion push and Planned Parenthood's funding of her campaign.
Aside from this fallacious cause and effect, others have said lower numbers are a result of an increase in restrictions and a decrease in access to abortion services. There is truth to these claims. For some time now, this has been a deeper concern of abortion advocates than the legality of abortion.
Just read their newsletters. Without access, they argue, what good is Roe v. Wade? There are various reasons for a decrease of access. For one thing, fewer doctors want to perform abortions, and those who do so (under a thousand now) are getting older, grayer, and more tired, some of them traveling to several states in the course of a week to perform the procedure. Incidentally, this has been one of the reasons for the frenzied push to chemical abortions, although that has not resulted in more abortionists.
Yet the reason for fewer abortions goes deeper than that. It is noteworthy that the very author of the CDC report 20 years ago, Lisa Koonin, mentioned a change in attitudes toward abortion as one of the reasons for the decline. This is even more true today. We are now entering almost 50 years of legalized abortion. The after-effects now span several generations.
I am not surprised about the shift in attitude. I see it all the time. At Priests for Life, we have learned from our experience that the more priests preach against abortion, the more lives are saved. We have a wealth of testimonies to prove it, and we give priests a wealth of suggestions on how to make those sermons work.
No matter the reason, if fewer babies are being destroyed by the single greatest disaster in the history of our nation (legal abortion), then it is cause for rejoicing.
At the same time, I do not cease reminding people that this tragedy still claims some 3,300 lives a day. And as far as CDC numbers are concerned, they are always lower than the actual count. I say this because the CDC merely receives abortion statistics from those agencies reporting to them, rather than actively seeking them. Missing from these reports are at least three states. That is why CDC numbers will be somewhat lower than those from other sources, such as the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
In order to make abortion illegal and unthinkable again, which I believe will happen within my lifetime, we have to continue to bring the numbers down. It's happening. And I am even more confident that with our new president's actions, we will continue in that direction. Let's keep doing the things that make it happen, and let's rejoice as we do them!
Father Frank Pavone (@frfrankpavone) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the national director of Priests for Life.
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.